Five Questions with Kyle Pickett

New Buildings Institute welcomes Kyle Pickett as its new Director of Leadership and Market Development. Kyle provided his perspective on NBI, joining the team and some industry trends to watch for in this five-question interview.


Q: Welcome
to NBI, Kyle! What drew you to the organization?

A:   NBI’s 25-year history of leadership in action speaks to me on a fundamental level. The mission of the organization is nothing short of industrywide, transformational change that protects people and planet. How cool is that? In addition, we’re seeing when net zero principles are embraced, it protects and enhances long term asset value as well. So: People, Planet, and Profit. I have deep respect for the leaders and colleagues connected to this organization and thought it would be fun to be part of it!

Q: Why is getting to zero important for the industry?

A:   Measurable and verifiable data shows the construction industry greatly contributes to annual carbon emissions globally. That’s the grim news, but there’s also an enormous opportunity for developers and designers to differentiate themselves in the market as leaders in sustainable and just design and construction practices. Code is slowly moving in this direction and the business case for net zero is becoming undeniable. However, people don’t like change. I believe when we offer meaningful tools and resources, that can inspire change within a company or organization, and advance our mission.

Q: Could you provide some background on your professional experience and the challenges and/or successes that motivate you in this work?

A: Buildings were not my focus when I first emerged from college. I was on the West Coast doing some organizational management consulting and in 2004 when Williams Sonoma moved me to San Francisco for some contract work. I met Bill Worthen (FAIA, LEED Fellow) in 2005; we dated and subsequently married in 2013. That year we revived Urban Fabrick from a dormant design practice he “kept on the side” into a sustainability consulting firm focused on connecting policy and practice with design. In 2014, we opened a New York office and worked on some amazing projects like SFO Terminal 1, 181 Fremont, and Salesforce Tower. Bill passed unexpectedly from a heart attack while attending the ASHRAE Winter Conference in January 2017. He was scheduled to speak the following day.

While in the depths of my grief, our clients and our competitors rallied around me and my team. It was a pivotal moment for me. I became the face of our firm and stepped forward to lead with the support of an entire community behind me. Relationships are at the heart of how we get stuff done. With support from colleagues and friends, The William Worthen Foundation was formed in his honor to develop and deploy meaningful professional education that works to demystify highly technical topics, like onsite water reuse and building decarbonization, and thanks to funding from partners the practice guides are made available at no cost to the reader.

Over the last decade I’ve applied my expertise in trust building, communication, and collaboration to my work and after closing Urban Fabrick last August, I wanted to take time to determine my next steps. COVID has provided many of us an opportunity to recalibrate our lives based on the things most important. Where do I go from here and what do I want to do? New Buildings Institute has offered me the opportunity to scale up my impact.

Measurable and verifiable data shows the construction industry greatly contributes to annual carbon emissions globally. That’s the grim news, but there’s also an enormous opportunity for developers and designers to differentiate themselves in the market as leaders in sustainable and just design and construction practices.

Q: What do you think are the key industry trends right now that we should be watching?

A:   I have three and they are:

1) ESG or Environmental, Social, Governance – it’s the wild west right now. Vigilance on how these reporting mechanisms is received by CFOs, the board room, and investors, is critical to understanding how our products and services can be of further value to our clients and collaborators. Verdani Partners, led by Danielle Horton, seems to have a solid perspective on the problems ESG faces, which also tells me they’re ahead of the curve on predicting when and where it will have meaning for companies as they all blindly navigate the ever-changing landscape. One global business consulting company has started offering ESG related services to their diversity of clients. A colleague recently informed me of the chaos this is causing because there’s no regulatory construct or uniformity to the reporting across any of the industries where their clients have operationalized.

2) Finance & Insurance – Banks and insurance companies need to reward sustainable/net zero/regenerative projects with premium interest rates and discounted fees. Some are doing it now, but the practice needs to be industry standard. I think we’ll see an acceleration of net zero principles once developers and owners can see the monetary difference in their balance sheets.

3) Resource Stewardship – Energy, carbon, and water are inextricably linked, and industry has yet to fully grasp the enormity of this potential. I have expertise in onsite water reuse and the driving conversations in those circles are renewably powered mechanical systems that separate the solids, transforms it into a high value compost to be used on site (or sold), and returns the reclaimed water for non-potable needs like irrigation and toilet flushing, thereby reducing potable demand and sewer discharge fees as these services escalate in costs. It is really cool.

Q: What is giving you hope right now?

A:   Ruth Bader Ginsberg said, “Fight for the things you care about, but do it in such a way that leads others to join you.” Quite honestly, it’s the same answer as the question “what is causing you the most despair?” The answer is: People. Social media and other electronic communication mechanisms that give a false sense of connection only exacerbate the fundamental problem of disconnection. Connecting with each other internally and within our project teams takes effort but these are also pathways in “getting stuff done.” The gratitude exercise that is part of our monthly all-staff meeting that I participated in last Tuesday was amazing! It gives us windows into each other’s humanity. People are seeing and taking action and leading others to join them to make positive change and examples are everywhere in virtually every community. I’ll be looking for ways on how NBI can best support communities taking action for sustainable, regenerative, and just change.

My mantra, and you’ll hear it a lot: Be good trouble.

by Connie Umphress, Communication Manager

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